Substance abuse counselors, also known as addiction counselors help people with behavioral disorders by talking through the complexities and causes of their addiction.

Substance abuse counseling is a combination of treatment and support to help people break free from drug or alcohol addiction. This specific type of therapy is often a key part of rehabilitation programs so clients can overcome substance dependence mentally and emotionally. Clients will work with a licensed addiction counselor or substance abuse counselor (titles vary among states, but the therapeutic goals remain the same) in a clinical setting to address issues like mental health, behavior patterns and treatment options. Substance abuse counseling may involve:

  • Talk therapy sessions
  • Discussing the causes of addiction
  • Positive coping strategies
  • Developing treatment goals and plans
  • Practicing skills and behaviors necessary for recovery
  • Recommendations for 12-step programs or groups

What Is a Substance Abuse Counselor?

Substance abuse counselors, also known as addiction counselors, are licensed professionals trained in psychology, human behavior, chemical dependency and therapeutic methods. These therapists help people with behavioral disorders (primarily substance use) by talking through the complexities and causes of their addiction. Substance abuse counselors will work one-on-one with clients to develop goals and strategies for pursuing sobriety — all in a compassionate and confidential environment. People who choose a career in addiction counseling can work in a variety of settings, from hospitals and rehabilitation centers to halfway houses, prisons and private practices.

Substance Abuse Counselor Requirements

Requirements to become a substance abuse counselor can vary, often depending upon the type of setting and employer. For most positions, a bachelor’s degree is required to be an addiction counselor. A Bachelor of Science in psychology is one type of degree held by addiction counselors, but for greater professional advancement, most counselors obtain a master’s degree. To be licensed to work as a substance abuse counselor, a therapist must hold a master’s degree and have 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Additionally, addiction counselors must complete continuing education courses every year and pass a state-issued exam. However, keep in mind that each state’s regulations are unique, and the license and certification requirements vary. For more information on each state’s specific criteria for substance abuse counselors, visit the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Finding a Substance Abuse Counselor Near Me

There are a few common ways to find an addiction counselor for in-person or teletherapy treatment. You can do a simple Google search to find local practices, call a toll-free hotline or seek a recommendation from a trusted friend or family member who’s been in your shoes. Calling a national helpline can be a good place to start if you’re unsure where to look. However, to ensure you find exactly the right treatment for you, or even if you just need a listening ear, call The Recovery Village — it’s free, completely confidential, and you don’t have to commit to a program.

Substance Abuse Counseling Goals and Objectives

Personal safety is the first priority in any counseling or medical setting. After a full psychological evaluation is completed, treatment can begin. The crucial first step in substance abuse treatment is medical detox, where your body can rid itself of drugs or alcohol. Once you’re stabilized and working past physical addiction, you and your counselor can begin to define your goals and objectives for therapy, which will be based on your:

  • Mental health diagnosis
  • Social needs (e.g., family relationships, friendships, etc.)
  • Goals for recovery and beyond (e.g., independent living, a return to a former career, etc.)
  • Situational threats to your ability to remain sober (e.g., underlying behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, chronic disorders, etc.)

With defined goals and objectives, you and your counselor can begin working on the psychological and emotional issues that influence your substance use disorder.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), nearly 9.2 million Americans suffer from co-occurring disorders (e.g. mental health conditions) alongside a substance use disorder. Substance abuse treatment at The Recovery Village includes a dual diagnosis process to identify co-occurring disorders so that mental health counseling can be integrated accordingly. For many clients, the two diagnoses (substance abuse and mental health disorder) are deeply intertwined, requiring simultaneous treatment.

Substance abuse treatment for people with co-occurring disorders begins with a baseline of information taken to identify the issues at hand. With the therapist, the patient can create goals they would like to reach over the course of counseling sessions. Some common psychotherapies include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): a type of therapy used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions and identify the specific behaviors and mindsets that may contribute to addiction.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): this is a subset of CBT that aims to help people evaluate their inner feelings and thoughts, accept and tolerate change and practice mindfulness.
  • Interpersonal Therapy: commonly used to treat dysthymia and depression, this therapy focuses on improving communication with others and oneself.
  • Family Therapy: family can be a huge source of support and care for someone struggling with substance use disorder. Family therapy may be especially useful for those with co-occurring disorders, as it balances therapeutic practices with familial care.

Don’t let a substance use disorder ruin your life. If you’re seeking substance abuse counseling services or want to find out more about treatment at The Recovery Village, help is available. Contact us today to get started on the road to healing.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Eric Patterson, LPC
Eric Patterson is a licensed professional counselor in the Pittsburgh area who is dedicated to helping children, adults, and families meet their treatment goals. Read more

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, an[…]h Counselors.” September 4, 2019. Accessed June 7, 2020.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indi[…]se and Health.” August 2019. Accessed May 18, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.